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Every Friday, I post a small insight into running Curio City and/or Blue Hills Editorial Services. My most recent posts are directly below. You can also start with the first post, or use the subject labels to the right to home in on particular topics. Feel free to comment on anything that interests you.
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Saturday, December 13, 2008

Christmas Screwups

Today finally brought a breather. I’d better post while the posting’s good, because I expect a few more rocking days ahead.

After that incredible 2,012-visitor spike that I told you about last week, traffic fell back to 636, then slowly drifted back into the 400-500 range – about what I would ordinarily expect during this week. I really like seeing the number of those visits that convert to sales. It’s grown from the traditional 1-2% to as much as 8%, and my average sale has crept up from $40 to nearly $50.

I’m doing phenomenal business. I surpassed last December’s total sales – which I had thought were pretty impressive – on the 10th of this month. I recorded 233 sales in those 10 days – nearly 100 of them in just two days -- and worked two 16-hour days to process and ship them all. Those 10 days surpassed my combined sales in June, July, and August – the entire summer. I’ll wait while that sinks in: I did three months’ business in 10 days. Every time I think I can’t possibly get any busier…I get a little busier. I’ve already topped $10,000 for the first time ever and am contemplating a $15,000+ month. Not bad for some old geezer selling stuff out of his cellar. With two healthy paychecks this month and shareholder distribution time looming, I’ll have enough money left after paying the dentist to get my wife a generous Christmas present…and maybe even buy myself something nice. I haven’t treated myself to anything in literally years. Oh, who am I kidding? I’ll put whatever the taxman leaves me toward personal debt.

Worst screwup of the week: I blew through all 144 of my Recycled Motherboard Christmas Trees by Wednesday morning. Not to worry: Last Thursday I placed a 72-piece backup order, followed by 72 more on Friday. My sales rep assured me that I’d have them on Monday. When they still weren’t here on Tuesday, I found out that they hadn’t even shipped yet! If they had arrived as expected, I’d probably have needed another 72 pieces for next week. Instead, I missed two critical peak demand days, and now I’m looking at a mountain of those things as sales slow to a dribble. Although the vendor screwed me over by shipping later than promised, I’m partly to blame for being conservative with my initial order.

Second worst screwup: The USPS rate lookup servers were chronically offline, so my site could only find and display UPS rates. Shoppers had to either buy UPS at triple the USPS cost, or simply leave. Lighted cap sales tanked when that started on Monday, and didn’t start to recover until the post office fixed it on Wednesday. And by “fixed it”, I mean they reduced their server load by disabling Click-n-Ship, the consumer’s online postage interface. I’d have been utterly screwed without Endicia as a fallback. Click-n-Ship didn’t get back to normal until today.

Third worst screwup: Those Christmas trees arrived a day earlier than promised…but instead of getting the 144 that I worried were excessive, they double-shipped 288. Oops. Yes, I can send them back, but in the meantime they are occupying a substantial chunk of my living room floor…and I dread figuring out how QuickBooks is going to want the accounting handled.

After cutting my backorder in half I got the correct eight Equal Measure measuring cups, but the manufacturer charged me for the originally ordered 16. I don’t know how to handle that in QuickBooks, either. My CPA is not going to be pleased with me.

Fourth worst screwup: I’ve had a couple of minor hit products from Can You Imagine over the years, but because they have a way of running out of stock on their popular items, nothing has ever really sold spectacularly. This year I noticed some early movement on the Amazing Coin Factory Bank. Even though exorbitant shipping costs from the Left Coast yield a very marginal gross margin, I decided that keeping it in stock will pump up my dollars. It has obligingly sold a respectable number of units -- better than anything else I've had from this vendor. Early this week, though, I started getting complaints. The defect rate is running a little over 10% (I consider anything over 2% to be unacceptable). I won’t find out how bad it is until disappointed children all over America discover broken toys on Christmas. I am already juggling returns and replacements, much to the consternation of QuickBooks and eventually of my CPA. With a little luck this won’t blow up into the customer-dissatisfaction disaster that I fear.

Least screwup: AFAIK, I have made only two minor packing errors, and I didn't switch any shipping labels during my crunch time. I've been very, very careful...but I've also been very, very tired and very, very stressed.

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